By Joel Rubin
“To Janit…The Sweetest Little Girl I Know.” So wrote John Frank in 1958 on the wall of what was likely a bar on Hampton Boulevard at 25th Street in Norfolk. John and Janit’s relationship was lost to history until workmen uncovered the quote, part of a remarkable restoration of four old structures that will highlight the Railyard at Lamberts Point, a $40-million, 120,000 square foot development coming to the Lambert’s Point community.
“We are learning so much about these buildings as we peel back the layers,” says 39-year-old Rich Meredith, a Norfolk Collegiate and VMI grad who returned home to Hampton Roads in 2018 after a stint in the CIA. “My last post was in East Africa.” His high school sweetheart Hunter Compo was in Napa. Reunited they are now back for good, really good, if you consider the Railyard at Lamberts Point an amenity that will revolutionize a long-ignored part of the city.
“For over 15 years, four different groups attempted to develop the acreage between 24th and 27th Streets, just beyond the underpass on Hampton Boulevard. Nothing materialized,” says Rich, one of the latest Merediths in a century old local construction company of the same name. “In each iteration we sought to sell the historic buildings we owned to these groups. But after I moved home in 2018, we decided to create something ourselves, purchasing adjacent properties and formulating our own comprehensive plan.”
And what a plan it is (see it at www.RailyardAtLambertsPoint.com). Yes, there will be a grocery anchor, Lidl, and some relatively new franchises to this area like Nothing Bundt Cakes (already open), Chicken Salad Chicks (a tasty Texas concept already at Peninsula Town Center in Hampton), Sushi King, Club Pilates, Domoishi, Jimmy Johns, Biscuit Belly and more. More will include an 8,000 square foot entertainment and dining experience, within the original walls and below the exposed wooden beams of what once was. “It’s amazing how well these buildings have stood up over time.”
Indeed, and it’s not just the ’50s musings from John Frank and cartoons depicting Dwight Eisenhower that are still visible as Rich and I walked through the site. “This space here was a military uniform distribution center during World War II,” says Meredith, the evidence being big letters along the celling that told GI’s where to line up for their clothing. “This other building was a soda bottling plant that became a cold storage facility. Lots of people who have driven down Hampton Boulevard remember Hogshire Industries that made tents. We acquired it to be part of the district.”
There will be ten buildings altogether, some brand new and some old, those being revived through “adaptive reuse” to qualify for historic tax credits, guidelines for which the Merediths must scrupulously follow including preserving the exact locations of windows, doors, skylights, and loading docks, but all will be conversation pieces when the Railyard is fully operational, probably by 2025. “We will open in phases though,” says Rich, “as we complete sections.” And what everyone following this very public development should be quite anxious to experience will be a wide outdoor green space/concourse, perfect for dining, schmoozing and music, hopefully not to be muffled by the sound of trucks rumbling up and down the boulevard.
Yes, this is right in the middle of Norfolk’s thriving maritime industry. Norfolk International Terminal and the Naval Station are to the east (as is ODU). Fairwinds Landing, which will host offshore wind activities, is to the south. Downtown, Ghent, CHKD, Sentara, and EVMS along with Lamberts Point’s homes and businesses are also close by. “That’s a lot of potential trade for the Railyard,” says Rich, who notes that the popular Elizabeth River Trail brings walkers right past the new destination. “It will be a nice stop for coffee or lunch.”
Rich is one of five Merediths working for the family business, but actually his firm is developing (with Charlotte-based CCB Investment), not building, the Railyard. “Compo Construction is our general contractor. And every other company involved, from engineering firms Timmons, Speight Marshall & Francis, and PACE Collaborative, to Integrity Bank, Work Program Architects, Commonwealth Preservation Group and the local office of Colliers Real Estate, are right here in our area,” he notes proudly.
So there will be much to celebrate as the Railyard at Lamberts Point, which still has openings for office and retail tenants, grows. In the meantime, buy a Bundt Cake and while there, see the next generation of Norfolk’s night (and day) life evolve, thanks to the fifth generation of a visionary Norfolk company that is carefully preserving the past to bring all of us a more enticing future.